EMERGENCY department waiting times have increased since last year, according to the latest figures from the National Health Performance Authority.
The report shows that from last July to March 2013, only 51 per cent of all emergency patients were seen on time, down from 56 per cent last year and well short of the target of 70 per cent.
When split into five categories of clinical urgency, each of which has a minimum target for how many patients should be seen within a set timeframe, the ACT’s performance in emergency medicine has missed the mark in three and declined in four since last year.
All patients that needed to be seen immediately were treated on time – meeting the target of 100 per cent – but only 71 per cent were seen on time in the next most urgent category, for people who should be seen within 10 minutes, down from 76 per cent last year and below the target of 80 per cent.
The report says just 42 per cent of patients in the “under 30 minutes” category were seen on time, compared with 51 per cent last year and a target of 75 per cent. Similar figures were achieved in the “under one hour” category – 46 per cent against a target of 70 per cent, down slightly from 48 per cent last year.
The target of 70 per cent was exceeded in the least urgent category, where 78 per cent of patients were seen within the applicable timeframe of two hours, compared to last year’s performance of 81 per cent.
In terms of the National Emergency Access Target, which is a condition of some federal funding, ACT Health aims to have 65 per cent of all emergency patients seen within four hours, but achieved 58 per cent overall.
At the Canberra Hospital – home to the ACT’s main emergency department – 53 per cent were seen in four hours, and 63 per cent at Calvary Hospital.
Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson called on Health Minister Katy Gallagher to explain why, in most measures, the ACT’s emergency performance has gone backwards.
“Under Katy Gallagher’s management Canberrans have never waited so long to be treated in our emergency departments. I call on Katy Gallagher to explain why this is happening, and for once take responsibility for her failures,” Mr Hanson said in a statement.
Ms Gallagher released her own statement today, cheerfully welcoming the report which, she said, “shows that the ACT Hospitals are operating at or above national results in the majority of areas including in some emergency department performance measures”.
In the report itself, the “Minister’s foreword” says the two hospitals “have shown recent monthly improvements in relation to NEAT performance” and blames an increase in more serious emergency cases for longer waits in less urgent categories.
“Continual process improvement and additional infrastructure should assist the ACT in meeting the NEAT targets in the future,” the foreword states, and Ms Gallagher said today that “more initiatives are being implemented” to improve emergency performance.
Ms Gallagher also acknowledged that health professionals needed to be educated about the importance of washing their hands, after the Canberra Hospital’s “hand hygiene rate” was recorded at 65.4 per cent compared with the national benchmark of 70 per cent.
“I also note that some Queensland Hospitals have seen a significant improvement in their statistics over a relatively short period of time and I will travel to these hospitals with a group from ACT Health to learn from the experiences that have proved successful,” she said.